Another Ancestral Castle – Tolquhon

Because I enjoy visiting so many castles and other intriguing historical or neolithic sights while visiting the United Kingdom, I have found it most beneficial to buy a membership to two major organizations; The National Trust for Scotland and Historic Scotland.  Once one visits 2 or 3 sights and paid individual entrance fees, a yearly membership would have paid for itself. Plus, as a member, one gets free access to properties not only in Scotland, but England and Ireland as well.

To find places I might like to visit, I go to the organizations’ website and look at the map listing the location of the properties they manage and then select places in the area I happen to be visiting at the time.

I’ve discovered some really unique, obscure and out of the way places (besides the usual iconic places everyone goes to visit) and that otherwise I probably wouldn’t have realized even existed at all.  A lot of these places are out in the country, down a tree-lined lane, sitting amongst pastures of grain in neighboring farms and hiding in trees.  You can’t even see them from the road.

The website also provides a brief history of the sight, what people were associated with it over the course of time and other interesting tidbits.  This part I find most helpful.

Since I’m very interested in genealogy, my own ancestors and where they came from, I like to find out who built the castle, who lived in it, etc.  Once I have the names, I search my family tree for those names.  Interestingly enough, since I have ancestral lines leading to many Scottish Clans and aristocratic families going back to the 11th centuries I often find them in my family tree and can match my lineage to the person who built the castle, or at the very least, lived there during some point of the buildings’ history.

Yesterday, Lindsay and I went to visit Tolquhon (pronounced ‘Tol-hon’) castle near a town called Tarves in Aberdeenshire which I found in the manner I just described above.  I found the castle on Historic Scotland, read the history overview:

“See for yourself why this noble residence is said to be one of Grampian’s most picturesque castles. Among the lavish details are fine carvings of its chief builder Sir William Forbes and his wife, Lady Elizabeth Gordon.”

I searched for those names in my family tree and sure enough, the guy that built it turned out to be my 10th great grandfather! That’s something new I learned about one of my obscure ancestors!  How cool is that?  I love finding bits like this and learning more about where I come from.

Naturally, I definitely needed to go see this castle! Yesterday, Monday July 17th, my cousin Lindsay and I set out on a fine sunny day to do just that and this is what we found.


When you look at the timeline on the board above, it says that William Forbes, the 7th Laird, builds the current castle.  Here is the lineage from my family tree showing how he is related to me:

Sir William, 7th Lord of Tolquhon Forbes (1530 – 1596)
10th great-grandfather

John Forbes (1568 – 1635)
son of Sir William, 7th Lord of Tolquhon Forbes

John Forbes (1608 – 1661)
son of John Forbes

Lieut William Forbes (1649 – 1712)
son of John Forbes

Phoebe Forbes (1679 – 1715)
daughter of Lieut William Forbes

Mary Seabury (1715 – 1755)
daughter of Phebe Forbes

Pvt John Southworth (1743 – 1832)
son of Mary Seabury

Hannah Southworth (1796 – 1842)
daughter of Pvt John Southworth

Hannah Mae Case (1828 – 1898)
daughter of Hannah Southworth

Daniel A Clapp (1853 – 1913)
son of Hannah Mae Case

Hannah Elizabeth Clapp (1897 – 1977)
daughter of Daniel A Clapp

William Kenneth Frew (1917 – 1997)
son of Hannah Elizabeth Clapp

Claudia Louise Frew
You are the daughter of William Kenneth Frew

Let’s enter the gate and check out this castle that my 10th ggpa built, shall we?



IMG_0028Looking Back, the way we came.

IMG_0009The Preston Tower may even been built by my 16th great grandfather, Sir John Forbes, who came into possession of the lands in 1420!




When William inherited the castle, he added the castle inside the defensive walls.  Here’s the front entrance below.

IMG_0010I always like to take close-up shots of the coat of arms and anything else carved around the entrances as they usually have significance and tell us something about the inhabitants.

Let’s enter the front gate and see what’s behind it.


The arrow slits are rather unique in this castle.  Usually they are slits, or small holes just big enough for an arrow to fit through.  The home of a “Renaissance man“, Tolquhon was designed for show rather than defense, and was the work of the mason-architect Thomas Leper (or Leiper). Leper’s distinctive triple shot-holes flank the main entrance, and are also found at nearby Arnage Castle and Dean Castle in Ayrshire.

Below are views of other parts of the castle as viewed from the second story of Preston’s Tower.

IMG_0080Here’s a shot looking up the chimney of the huge fireplace in the kitchen and the oven within the fireplace.

Now let’s head down this corrider in another portion of the servant’s area on the ground floor…IMG_0070

IMG_0071Now, down the corridor the other way…IMG_0081Okay, it leads us to the entrance to the castle that guests would’ve used to go upstairs to the Grand Hall and other upper rooms for the Lords and Ladies.  Let’s go up those grand stairs and see the rooms up there…

IMG_0088Hmm, another door… wonder where that leads to? Interesting! The Gallery…


I wonder where these stairs lead to?  Oh, yet another tower!

Let’s go back downstairs, through the Gallery and to the top of the grand stairs and head the other way now…


Ok, back to the room where the grand staircase came up.  What’s Lindsay looking so intently at?  He must be reading a sign or something as he is really concentrating…

IMG_0101Aha!  It is a sign, and now we’re in the Grand Hall; the most luxurious room in the castle.


IMG_0104They even had glass in the windows.  Look above and you can see the narrow slit in the window casing where the glass would have slotted into the stone and the bigger square holes where the iron bars were fixed outside.

IMG_0110What is beyond the grand hall in these rooms?


Quite an impressive view they had from their bedroom, wouldn’t you say?

Someone else likes this bedroom too and has a nest nearby I suspect. That looks like a cozy little room up there at the top!  Think I’ll see if I can find another staircase to access it.

Sure enough!  Look here!



There sure are some great views of the Laird’s bedroom from up here and the Grand Hall on the other side too!

IMG_0127Nice view of the grounds as well!IMG_0142

Okay, back down the stairs again…IMG_0097


and what’s behind the doorway in the corner of the room?

Ah!  The stairs the servants would’ve used to access the ground floor kitchens and stores. Back down those stairs to look around some more.


Now, back at the Lord’s & Lady’s front door…


Guess it’s time to head out of the castle, through the courtyard, and out the main gate again.  Sure was fun exploring this place that my 10th great grandfather built!

IMG_0154Before I go however, let’s take a stroll around the outside of the castle walls and see what the pleasure grounds look like.  Can’t you just imagine the beautiful formal gardens, tree-lined avenues and the like they also enjoyed?IMG_0155






That beautiful castle, hidden amongst the trees in the middle of fields of barley!  Who would of thought?  Not I!

Nearby, just a couple miles away, is the village of Tarves.  In the old kirkyard is where William and Elizabeth are buried in a tomb.  Let’s go have a look at that too!  Not only did I find a castle they built and lived in, but the same day found their headstones as well.  Now that’s a first!

The church wasn’t hard to find at all.  Drive into town, there’s the church, and there’s even a sign pointing the way to the Tolquhon Tomb!  It doesn’t get any easier than this I tell ya! Around the corner of the church, past some very interesting gravestones…




Tarves had a lovely town square just a block away from the church.  We found a nice cafe on the square, had some great grub, and enjoyed the sunny day and the locals.


To finish off such a perfect afternoon, we drove about 7 miles away to another castle, Fyvie.  We had visited it last year last in the summer right before I left to go back home.  So today we headed back to the gardens to have a look at how it looks in the middle of summer and in its prime.













Looking pretty good to me!

Of course I couldn’t resist driving up to the castle as well and having a quick looksy!  It’s such a pretty castle, and in my top 10 favorites list besides!



A day well spent, visiting castles & gardens…

Okay, out the gate, and back home to Aberdeen!


Author: Claudia Frew

Adventuresome, independent, and fun-loving 68-year young American great-grandmother who loves to travel; often going solo!

2 thoughts on “Another Ancestral Castle – Tolquhon”

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